this Daily Classroom Special:
Science to Go provides easy yet meaningful
science activities for grades k-8. Science to Go was written
by Barbara Smith, Magnet Coordinator at Harvard Elementary, Houston
(TX) and former Teachers Network web mentor.
In this activity, students will monitor "bugs" at their
school by observing insects collected in their area. Insect data collected
from participating students will be shared over the Internet.
Insects are the most populous group of animals in the world, and
entomologists discover new insects every year. As a group, insects
possess an amazing array of adaptations that allow them to survive
in many different ecosystems, from the tropics to polar regions,
and from high in the atmosphere to caverns deep in the earth. While
we usually think of insects as pests, they are incredibly important
to us and other organisms in many different ways. They pollinate
plants, assist in decomposition, and play a large role in many food
Insects possess a kind of skeleton on the outside of their bodies
called an exoskeleton. The body itself is composed of three divisions:
head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax has three segments, each with
a pair of jointed legs; so an insect normally has six legs. Most
insects also have two pairs of wings attached to the thorax, but
some have only one pair, and a few have none at all. Insects usually
have two sets of jaws, two kinds of eyes (simple and compound),
and one pair of antennae. Insects do not have lungs, but breathe
through holes in their sides called spiracles.
- Identify insects from amongst other organisms.
- Use research skills to classify insects.
- Manipulate lab equipment.
- Learn and practice methods for handling live organisms.
- Piece of plywood or wood, approximately 12" x 6", size may vary.
- Magnifying glass
- Insect identification guide
- Small bottles or jars for collection (baby food jars are durable
and usually readily available)
- Pencil and paper
- Have the students pick a location in which to place their boards.
Encourage the students to describe the biome. Examples of biomes
are: urban, suburban, rural, field, woods, gravel/sand, or concrete/black
- Record temperature, date, and weather conditions.
- Place the board on the ground and record the time.
- After 24 hours, examine board and collect any organisms on
top of it. Flip the board over and collect those, too.
*Safety Tip: Caution students to use collection materials
and safe handling techniques, without touching the insects by
hand. Some insects are poisonous, and some students may have
unidentified allergies to insect bites.
To retrieve insects for closer inspection, place the bugs
in a plastic container in the refrigerator for one hour until
the insects fall down to the bottom. Most of the insects will
be sluggish from the chill for easier transportation and observation.
Chilled insects may be placed in clear plastic containers for
observation and later released.
Alternatively, they may be placed in the freezer for two to
three hours to euthanize the insects for permanent collection.
Check the living organism guideline from your school district
for approved handling techniques.
- Use the magnifying glass to examine your organisms closely
and determine which ones are insects.
- Record the type and number of insects on a data sheet.
- Use the insect identification guide to find names of the insects
caught. Identify order, genus, and species.
- Make a graph showing the insect names and the numbers caught.
- Share the information with others on an Insect Safari (e-mail Barbara Smith). We
are specifically looking for the following information:
- Which is the most common insect at your home/school?
- Are there fire ants in your vicinity?
- Can you video conference.
Questions for Discussion and/or Sharing
- Do the types of insects caught differ greatly from school to
- Would the numbers of insects change in different seasons? Why?
- Which insects were found at other schools that we did not find?
- Do those insects live in our area?
- How many different insects can we find and identify?
If time allows, have the students experiment with different colors
of boards and locations or have students create their own Bug Board
If the board method does not produce many insects, try marking
off a square foot or yard of ground with sticks and yarn. Use a
thin stick or pencil to investigate the area.
- Learn to identify the different body parts for insects. Which
parts are different from those found on people? The same?
- What is the difference between a "bug" and an "insect"?
- Identify the organisms you caught which were not insects.
- Make recordings of insect sounds.
- Examine metamorphosis.
- Map their Bug Board placement on both a map of the school and
a local map.
Website Picks for Science
State University's Tasty Insect Recipes--Yes, just what it sounds
like! Teach your students the importance of insects in the human
food chain in some parts of the world, and get them to try it if
A first for Science To Go! I heartily recommend The
Multimedia Bug Book by Workman/Swifte for elementary and
middle school classes. The CD has students collecting insects in
different biomes for a scientist whose live collection has just
escaped. Included are identification tips, photos, encyclopedia-like
listings, film, note-taking, games, spreadsheets, and much more.
You can easily teach a whole unit using this software as a resource.